Zoë’s AFI Fest 2022 Recap

One of the great joys of living in Los Angeles is the fact that there’s a major film festival in your city every fall. Even if you can’t make the trek to TIFF or Telluride earlier in the year, AFI Fest rolls around each November to show a lot of these same awards contenders, taking place only a half hour or so from your house for a fraction of the price of any other film fest. It’s a great way to simultaneously catch up with film critic friends from across the state (or country!) and see some splashy world premieres of late-breaking awards players or those on the second leg of their campaign. AFI Fest 2022 brought some big names to town with screenings for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, but those weren’t the only films worth seeing, as this year’s schedule was diversified with a number of smaller indie titles, documentaries, and international features too. Below, I’ll take you through my schedule for each day to let you know what I saw, what I thought, and what I think these films’ awards prospects are, and then, we’ll wrap up with a quick look at what I missed. Let’s dive in.


She Said

REVIEW: I saw She Said the day before AFI Fest began at an FYC screening hosted by Universal, but since it had a huge West Coast premiere just a few days later at the festival, I felt inclined to include it here – especially since it’s bound to be a big awards contender and it’s rather riveting. For me, She Said was a staggering ode to the art of journalism and the dogged determination of journalists around the world. It felt like this generation’s All the President’s Men, and was as enormously engrossing and emotionally effective as Spotlight, another awards juggernaut from a few years prior. Carey Mulligan commanded the extraordinary ensemble and was the best-in-show in my opinion, but truly everyone excelled, including Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton who stunned in just a few scenes. And though it has the sheen of a “studio movie” (and is perfectly paced like a modern thriller), it pulls no punches and leaves no stone unturned in its investigation of the ills of this industry, just as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey didn’t – two working moms who took down Harvey Weinstein and changed the world.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: Though some critics might wish the film had more of an “indie” (or at least somewhat stylized) aesthetic, that won’t bother Academy voters. The significance of this story – especially for this industry – speaks for itself, and the emotional impact is inescapable, as is its surprisingly crowdpleasing allure. In a field of ten, I truly do believe this has a strong shot at cracking the Best Picture line-up, and I foresee a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination following, along with a nod for Carey Mulligan in Best Supporting Actress, who has a legitimate chance to win with how powerful her scene-stealing performance is (and how chaotic that category is).


BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

REVIEW: BARDO is admittedly a beguiling audiovisual spectacle from start-to-finish, but its surreal storytelling can at times become a bit exhausting over the course of two and a half hours. Still, the central theme about being lost between countries is compelling, the cinematography captivates, and Daniel Giménez Cacho is a dynamic and dutifully committed lead. If you’re not already a fan of Iñárritu, this won’t be the film to bring you onboard, but there’s a lot to admire regardless – and while I wouldn’t personally call it as “pretentious” or “impenetrable” as it was labeled out of the fall festivals, I can still see many average audiences unfortunately feeling that way.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: I don’t see BARDO being widely appealing enough to break into Best Picture, but I do think there are specific branches that will be more receptive of AGI’s artistry. Oscar winners Barry Jenkins and Chloé Zhao have already been going to bat for him, and let’s not forget that this is a two-time Best Director winner after all. An International Feature Film nomination still seems like a slam dunk, and I wouldn’t count out Darius Khondji in Best Cinematography, but don’t sleep on Iñárritu either. Pundits always talk about how there’s been a spot reserved for an international nominee in the Best Director line-up in recent years (Alfonso Cuarón, Paweł Pawlikowski, Bong Joon-ho, Thomas Vinterberg, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, etc.) and while we’ve thrown a number of names around this season that fit that bill (Park Chan-wook, Ruben Östlund, etc.), he could also take it.



Robert Downey Sr. and Robert Downey Jr. in Sr.

REVIEW: Sr. is a lovingly crafted and life-affirming look at family, filmmaking, and finding enjoyment in everyday existence by making memories with what you have right in front of you. It’s both a celebration of Robert Downey Sr.’s career – which has been criminally under-explored and under-discussed – and a farewell between father and son that nevertheless still affects all audiences. It’s one of the best (and most moving) documentaries of the year, and potentially even the Oscar frontrunner in the category.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: With its big names, strong studio backing, and industry-centered narrative, Sr. could be an irresistible pick for Academy voters in the Best Documentary Feature category, assuming the notoriously finicky documentary branch nominates it. I’d say that’s Sr.‘s biggest hurdle right now – it’s a populist picture that’ll play well to the masses, but it has to charm the “artier” types first.


The Son

REVIEW: Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, The Son has been one of the most maligned awards contenders of recent years, and though I do think the film has sincere intentions, I also felt that the manufactured family drama unfortunately mostly felt stilted and inauthentic – and at times, even exhaustingly drawn out. Still, for all its faults, Hugh Jackman’s performance is genuinely honest and heartbreaking throughout, and it the film’s sole saving grace, especially with a script this “stagey” and thematically redundant.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: Many have asked me if The Son could still charm the older Academy voters who are more susceptible to saccharine melodrama (a la something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but I feel that the film just has too many obvious deficiencies to connect in a major way with any awards body. Though, don’t count out Jackman even if his film is floundering – his performance is pure awards bait and authentically affecting, and he’ll be contending in a very open category.

Women Talking

REVIEW: I missed my second screening of the day on Saturday (Close) because The Son ran late, so I was able to see one of my favorite films of the year, Women Talking, for a second time before my final screening, and I’m incredibly glad I did. I simply still can’t stop thinking about every audacious artistic choice Sarah Polley and her cast and crew make in this movie. Every line contains so much to consider. Every glance and touch is full of purpose and poignancy. From top-to-bottom, it’s one of the most consummately crafted films of 2022, and don’t let any of those “color-grading” (or “it’s too contained!”) complaints convince you to dismiss all the depth embedded in every frame of this intimate epic.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: Women Talking remains firmly in the thick of the Best Picture race (pay no mind to the takes that it won’t be accessible to average audiences – it’s never too artsy that it would alienate Academy voters, and let’s not forget that it already placed second for TIFF’s People’s Choice Award) and Sarah Polley looks more and more like a slam dunk in Best Adapted Screenplay with every passing day (on top of a probable Best Director nod, though that competition is tough). Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy will both be big contenders in Best Supporting Actress – with each even having a chance to win, depending on how that category shakes out – and Ben Whishaw could contend in Best Supporting Actor too, while Hildur Guðnadóttir seems like a sure thing in Best Original Score. Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing may also be on the table.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

REVIEW: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is everything we’d hoped it be and more. A visually resplendent reminder that animation is art as well as entertainment, with every frame full of feeling and frenetic creativity, and the work of a true auteur, reimagining the classic story with even more emotion and new messages about mortality, making peace with the pains of your past, and refusing to let anyone else define your identity for you – along with a stirring look at the complicated love between fathers and sons. It’s an empowering and existentially affecting epic for the ages, and one that will charm all audiences this holiday season.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: The Best Animated Feature race is done – and has been for quite some time, to be honest – and I also see another Best Original Score nod in the cards for two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat here. However, that’s not all, as Pinocchio could also (deservedly) find some love in more crafts categories, such as Best Production Design or especially Best Visual Effects, and yes, Best Picture isn’t impossible either in a field of ten with the raves it’s been generating (and you can make a case for Best Adapted Screenplay for how GDT and co so ravishingly reinvent this oft-told tale too).


The Eternal Daughter

REVIEW: The Eternal Daughter – A.K.A. The Souvenir Part III – is a sumptuously shot and delicately directed ghost story of sorts from Joanna Hogg, who demonstrates a masterful grasp on mood throughout (even effectively handling the film’s sardonic humor) as Tilda Swinton stuns and stirs the soul in dual roles. It’s thrilling little genre-y treat that doesn’t go where you expect it to, and while some may find it too opaque, I was spellbound.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: Joanna Hogg’s films have never been The Academy’s cup of tea, but you could see a few critics groups or indie awards bodies go to bat for her or Tilda Swinton, or perhaps the film’s consuming cinematography and spine-chilling score.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

REVIEW: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an exhilarating exploration of female desire and sexuality, enhanced by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s dizzying direction, Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell’s sensationally sensual performances, and Isabella Summers’ seductive score. It’s of the sexiest mainstream movies I’ve seen in years (and thank god for that), and an enlightening example of all the female gaze can do for stories of our sexual awakening.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: I would personally like to see some love for Isabella Summers’ genuinely stupendous score – and the costume and production design is also as arresting as you’d expect from a period piece – but I’m not sure this will be one of Netflix’s top awards priorities this year, which gives me pause. Both Corrin and O’Connell turn in two of their best performances yet too, and would be worthy of any awards recognition.

Saint Omer

REVIEW: Saint Omer is a dense courtroom drama that nevertheless delivers emotionally, offering a comprehensive meditation on the complexities of motherhood and the emotional chaos mothers endure. Guslagie Malanga is a mesmerizing revelation, and though the film requires patience, it also rewards it. That final monologue will linger in my mind for weeks to come, hitting at the heart of what makes women so mystifying to many.

AWARDS PROSPECTS: As France’s entry for the Best International Feature Film race, I believe this stands a strong shot at landing a nom there, though I do think the sparse style and purposeful pacing could prevent it from a win. Elsewhere, I can see critics groups and indie awards bodies shower writer-director Alice Diop in praise and plaudits, especially for her sturdy script. 


The biggest movie I missed was most likely Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (I’ll be seeing a screening this Wednesday), but you don’t need me to tell you that that’s going to be an Oscar juggernaut. I’m also sad to have missed a few buzzed about international features like Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, Carla Simón’s Alcarràs, and Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, and the only other major premiere I wasn’t able to attend was for the Apple TV+ documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me. I didn’t have to see Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny or Oliver Hermanus’ Living since I had caught both at Sundance, and while I did miss my screening of Close on Saturday, I’ll hopefully be catching up with that one soon to give me a better read of this year’s Best International Feature Film race.

That closes the books on another fantastic year for AFI Fest, and, as always, I’m tremendously thankful for all the memories I’ve made and sensational movies I saw. Until next time…

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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